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Interrupted Journeys: Part 3 Journeys Begin  by elliska

Chapter 8: Imminent Arrivals

Spring 1941

Struggling not to yawn, Thranduil pulled his attention back to the conversation around him for what seemed like the hundredth time. Dolgailon and Hallion were arguing the merits of the Valar-only-knew-what with Engwe, speaking in an animated fashion. With a quiet sigh, Thranduil spared a moment to hope that he would be able to concentrate better when Aradunnon arrived and their meeting began.

Tomorrow was the first anniversary of the day he and Lindomiel had conceived their son and therefore was the day he should be born. Thranduil knew that the only person in the household more eagerly anticipating the child’s arrival than he was Lindomiel. She was exhausted and uncomfortable and nervous and a myriad of other emotions that Thranduil shared. More than anything else, Thranduil was anxious. Anxious to see his son and to hold him. Anxious to see his unique personality begin to develop and to guide his growth. Anxious to be through with the mysterious process that would be his son’s birth. As he waited for his brother, Thranduil ceased trying to pay attention to his advisors’ good-natured argument and focused on his sense of his wife and son’s song through their bond.

He nearly jumped out of his chair when the office door flew open and Aradunnon burst into the room.

“You all have to come see this,” he said standing at the door and motioning for everyone to follow him.

Brow furrowed and tensely searching Aradunnon for some explanation, Thranduil stood. His brother’s eyes were bright and excited and he had a broad grin on his face as he continued waving the others from the room.

Easily reaching the conclusion that Aradunnon’s outburst was not motivated by the imminent destruction of the forest, Thranduil drew a calming breath and scowled. “Would you mind telling me what we are going to see? You nearly scared the life out of me rushing in here as you did,” he said with a little more irritation in his voice than he intended.

Aradunnon only smiled at his brother. “It is a surprise, but one you will like, I think. Just come with me,” he replied, taking Thranduil’s arm and propelling him from the room.

Thranduil sighed and preceded his brother down the passageway. Dolgailon, Hallion and Engwe followed Aradunnon with amused smirks.

Not surprisingly, Aradunnon led them back to the family quarters. Even Thranduil laughed quietly as they entered the sitting room. Amoneth sat on the floor in a tight circle with her parents, Lindomiel and her parents, and Dieneryn. Galithil stood tipsily next to his mother, leaning against her arm for balance. The baby’s cheeks were flushed and he was giggling wildly.

“Ada!” he shouted holding out his arms the moment they entered the room.

“Watch this,” Aradunnon said proudly with a glance at Thranduil. Not moving any further into the room, he knelt and beckoned to his son. Amoneth steadied Galithil a bit and then let him go. With a delighted giggle, the child toddled the short distance to his father. When Galithil reached him, Aradunnon swept him into his arms and kissed him. The adults on the floor clapped.

“That is wonderful!” Thranduil exclaimed with sincere excitement in his voice. Hallion and Engwe echoed his comments, praising and petting Galithil. All this attention caused the child to burst into another fit of giggles.

With a broad smile, Aradunnon joined Amoneth on the floor, carrying Galithil with him.

Thranduil followed, sitting next to Lindomiel. “When did he learn this?” he asked, leaning forward and clapping his hands together softly to encourage Galithil to walk to him.

Aradunnon placed his son on his feet on the floor and pointed him towards his uncle. Galithil happily toddled over to him.

“This afternoon,” Aradunnon answered. “He has been mostly stumbling along holding our hands for a week or two. But this afternoon when we were playing with him, he walked from me to Amoneth.”

Thranduil grinned at his brother and turned Galithil around towards Engwe, who had sat next to Dieneryn and was holding out his arms. The infant began the short journey to his great uncle’s arms.

With an obviously amused smirk, Dolgailon settled himself next to his mother. He had watched his parents fuss over many ‘firsts’ in his brother’s life over the last few months. He found their reactions quite comical.

Amoneth patted her oldest son’s hand. “Do you remember your first steps, ion nin?” she asked with a mischievous grin.

Dolgailon laughed lightly. “No, nana. I do not think that I do.”

Aradunnon smiled. “The rest of the kingdom does. We called the entire court into the Great Hall to watch you walk.”

Dolgailon’s eyes widened and he stared at his father, laughing nervously as a blush spread across his cheeks.

Thranduil burst out laughing. “We had guests from the Mannish capital, did we not? I remember the look on their faces when I told them our meeting would have to be delayed.”

Dolgailon’s eyes grew even wider. “You canceled a meeting with foreign guests to watch a baby walk?” he exclaimed.

Thranduil nodded. “Of course. You were the first child in your generation, pen neth. Nothing was more important to this family than seeing you crawl or walk or dance or hearing your first words or song.”

Dolgailon shook his head. “So shall I call for Golwon and Celonhael and the staff?” he asked teasingly.

Aradunnon frowned at him playfully. “No. I did not get to enjoy your first steps nearly enough since I had to share them with the entire kingdom. I am not making that mistake twice. Galithil’s childhood will be for the family only.”

Dolgailon nodded. “I suppose it would be wise not to share yesterday evening’s behavior with anyone else,” he said looking at his father with amusement. Then he turned his gaze to the rest of the family. “In addition to learning to walk, Galithil’s aim has improved. Last night he demonstrated that he can hit adar squarely in the head when he throws something. I think we will be removing the wooden toys from his reach for a while,” he concluded meaningfully.

Galithil’s eyes lit at the word ‘throw’ and he began scanning the immediate area for something to pick up.

From the corner of his eye, Thranduil saw Amglaur raise his eyebrows and reach for a stuffed toy shaped like a fox. He handed it to Galithil with a mischievous look. The child clutched it in both fists, matching Amglaur’s expression with a disturbingly conspiratorial gleam in his eyes as he turned to his father.

Unaware of his peril, Aradunnon glared at his eldest son. “Yes, and you only encourage him when you laugh at him,” Aradunnon said coolly, unconsciously rubbing the back of his head.

Dolgailon struggled to respond with a serious tone. “You had just better watch your language, adar. I do not think you want to teach Galithil the word you used last night.” He paused. “I did not recognize the language, which leads me to believe it was something not very nice at all. My tutors made sure I learned all the polite languages.”

Aradunnon’s eyes narrowed but his retort was cut off when he was forced to deflect the flying fox. He scowled automatically in the direction whence it came and his expression soured further when he saw Galithil happily bouncing in Amglaur’s lap, clapping his hands and repeating ‘throw’ with glee. With a bland expression, Amglaur was handing him another toy.

“Adar!” Lindomiel exclaimed, trying to sound reproving and failing miserably.

Amglaur ignored his daughter’s admonition and Aradunnon’s fierce look as he turned Galithil towards Thranduil and whispered in his ear. The toy in the child’s hand flew at the king.

Thranduil caught it, glaring at Amglaur.

Galithil squealed. “Catch!” he shouted, clapping his hands.

Thranduil sighed. “You try to catch it, Galithil,” he said, tossing the toy gently back to his nephew. Galithil caught it in both arms and drew it protectively against his chest with a proud grin. Thranduil smiled at him but looked between Dolgailon and Amglaur. “Perhaps we can convince him that ‘catch’ is more entertaining then ‘throw’ before he firmly learns a bad habit,” he said, earning appreciative nods from Aradunnon and Amoneth.

Dolgailon shook his head, laughing lightly. “Then he will only like them both. Anything he gets attention for, he will do. He just loves attention.” He paused. “But if the rest of the afternoon is to be spent teaching infants to catch, I think I will excuse myself…”

At that announcement, Galithil frowned, abandoned the toy in his arms and crawled quickly to his brother. Climbing into his lap, he clutched his tunic. “Stay!” he demanded.

Smothering a sigh, Dolgailon looked at his father.

Aradunnon grinned and held his hands up. “Do not turn to me for help. You taught him to throw things at me,” he said quickly in response to his elder son’s silent plea.

Thranduil laughed. “Besides, we are not finished. I seem to recall that we have yet to accomplish the goal of the meeting we were supposed to have. We need to finalize the plans for the training program.”

Dolgailon looked at his uncle with wide eyes, gathering his little brother more securely in his arms and handing him a toy. “And you intend to discuss it when? Now?” he asked, looking at the ladies, their parents and his brother in his lap.

Thranduil shrugged, pushing a little horse mounted on four wheels towards his nephew. Galithil seized the toy, crawled into the center of the circle and began rolling it around on the floor.

“We might as well. There is nothing that we cannot say here—it is a training program, not the details of a battle,” he said looking at his nephew. “Most of this conversation will go over his head. He simply does not have the vocabulary yet. Besides, we do not have a great deal to settle. I did not intend to make any more changes to the last proposal you gave me. I will accept the four-year program along with one year of limited field experience assuming we do the testing you designed so the more experienced can advance more quickly. I agree that the courses you developed are vital and I admit that I cannot think of any way to condense them further.” He looked directly at Dolgailon. “You did an outstanding job planning this program, Dolgailon. I believe it will have a very positive impact.”

Dolgailon smiled. “Thank you, my lord,” he said softly. Then his expression became serious. “And what is your decision regarding the participation of adolescents?” he asked.

Thranduil’s mouth quirked down as his guests from Lothlorien looked at him with raised eyebrows. “It is a five year program. They may start it at forty-six. That way they will be of age during the year of field experience,” he replied quietly. That was, in Thranduil’s mind, by far the most painful concession he had made with regards to the training program, but he had been convinced of its necessity.

Amglaur’s jaw dropped at Thranduil’s words but he promptly closed his mouth and looked away. The king did not miss his clear disapproval.

Thranduil’s posture stiffened. “Do you have something to say, Amglaur?”

Amglaur looked back at him with a neutral expression. “It is certainly not my place to comment on affairs in Eryn Galen,” he replied.

Thranduil scowled. “I chose to have this conversation in your presence. We might as well address your comments now for I am certain we will at some point.”

Amglaur frowned scornfully. “I have never gainsaid Amroth’s decisions and I will not gainsay you in your realm, Thranduil. I trust that you have considered this with all due care. Indeed, the fact that Dolgailon specifically confirmed your approval of this aspect of this training program indicates your approval was not assumed.” He looked down bitterly. “I only wish that my daughter did not live in a realm where children are warriors. I certainly wish my grandson was not to be born in such a place.”

Lindomiel looked at her father askance.

Thranduil took a deep breath in preparation to reply but Aradunnon forestalled him. His tone was icy.

“We all wish that your king had joined with us to drive the Evil One out of the forest two millennia ago when it might have been possible, Amglaur, but since he chose not to, we must respond to the Shadow as we can.”

Amglaur’s brows knit. “I supported your argument to Amroth, if you will recall,” he retorted sharply.

Sitting in the center of the circle, Galithil had stopped playing with his toy horse and was looking between the hostile adults anxiously.

“Enough,” Thranduil intervened firmly, glancing pointedly at Galithil. Then he smiled at the child and tossed a toy for him to catch. When Galithil was again happily distracted by the game of catch, Thranduil looked back at Amglaur. “I wish my son was to be born in a completely peaceful world as well, Amglaur, but short of sailing to Aman, it is not within my power to make that happen. And I have no intention of doing that.”

Amglaur sighed. “I know that Thranduil. As I said, I have nothing constructive to add.”

“Then I think the only topic left to address is who will teach the courses and how we will design the command structure within the training program,” Dolgailon said quietly in the interest of returning to a productive conversation.  As he spoke, he reached for a toy that Galithil half-heartedly threw into the center of the circle. He handed to his brother and gestured for him to throw it to Amoneth. Instead, the child took the toy and crawled to his mother’s lap, settling himself in it with a yawn.

All the adults present took a moment to smile as Galithil snuggled his face against Amoneth’s silk gown, holding the toy tightly against him tucked under his chin.

Then Thranduil looked between Aradunnon and Engwe. “I think nearly any available senior warrior in the Palace Guard could teach the basic subjects such as the course on communications, signaling and report writing and the course on field medicine. And I see no reason why Tirithion and Langon should not continue doing the bow and sword training,” he said.

“Absolutely,” Aradunnon responded readily. “I recommend Pathon to teach the tracking course. And I think Hebor should teach the hand-to-hand combat. They are both very skilled warriors and could easily contribute to the tactical drills with their experience. They would work well with Tirithion and Langon, I believe, and I have been looking for some way to promote them for a long while.”

“Very well,” Thranduil agreed. “But what about the tactics courses? Those courses and their accompanying drills are very complex as Dolgailon has laid them out. Do you think we need a separate instructor for them or will Tirithion, Langon, Pathon and Hebor be able to manage them?” Thranduil asked.

“I would say that one of the factors that will influence that decision is how you intend to manage the command of the training program,” Dolgailon said. “My suggestion would be to put a captain over the program and make the training instructors lieutenants. That way, the students are exposed to the same command structure they will see in the patrols and the troop commander will have one point of contact with the program, as he does with the patrols. And a captain could coordinate the training drills, the year of field experience and participate in some of the teaching duties. I think that way you would have enough instructors and have a solid organizational structure.”

Aradunnon nodded. “As much as I hate pulling someone that I am ready to promote to captain back to the capital and take them out of combat, I agree that will be necessary. I thought about placing the training program under the captain of the Palace Guard but Dollion threatened to strangle me in my sleep if I did,” he said with a smirk. “And I do not have time to coordinate the program properly myself. It requires full time attention.”

Thranduil frowned slightly but nodded once. “Do you have anyone in mind?”

Aradunnon shook his head. “Honestly no, that is the problem. I cannot afford to promote any of the lieutenants in the southern border patrol. I cannot break in new a lieutenant at the same time Dolgailon is in the capital and I am dealing with a new captain there. Likewise, I cannot take anyone off the eastern border now with the Easterling threat.  And I simply do not think any of the lieutenants in the western or northern patrols or the Path Guard have enough experience to manage a program this complex.”

Thranduil shifted his gaze to look at his nephew. “What about Dolgailon?” he suggested softly. “He designed the program. It seems wise to have him command it. At least for the first few years.”

Dolgailon blinked and looked with concern between his uncle and father. Aradunnon was looking at him thoughtfully. His eyes widened as he realized his father was seriously considering the suggestion.

He tried to assume a more neutral expression when Amoneth put a gentle hand on his arm. “It would be so nice if you were in the capital while your brother grew up,” she said softly.

Dogailon’s brow furrowed and he drew a deep breath. “I prefer to return to the patrols when the king and troop commander decide to allow me to return to duty, naneth,” he responded firmly, apparently addressing his mother but looking at his father and uncle.

Thranduil remained silent, waiting for his troop commander to respond to that request.

Aradunnon fixed his son with a stern gaze. “You will do the duty you are assigned, captain,” he said quietly.

Dolgailon looked at his father evenly and he held his tongue. He was too well trained to argue with the realm’s troop commander and far too courteous to argue with his father in the presence of his grandparents. Nevertheless, his displeasure with the king’s suggestion was unmistakable.

Aradunnon regarded his son coolly for a moment before continuing. “I agree with the king that the person who designed the program is the logical person to manage it during its inception. I intend to consider that suggestion. If you have another, I would be happy to consider it as well.”

Dolgailon looked down. “I do have a suggestion, though I have failed to convince you to promote this person in the past so I have little hope of doing so now,” he said. “I recommend Glílavan.”

Aradunnon’s mouth formed a thin line and he immediately began shaking his head.

Dolgailon leaned forward. “He is an outstanding warrior, commander. There is no better tactician in Eryn Galen after you and I…”

Thranduil laughed lightly. “I fancy myself a fair tactician, Dolgailon,” he interrupted quietly.

Dolgailon glanced at his uncle and smirked. “I stand corrected. Excluding the king, adar and myself, there is no better tactician,” he said. Then he looked back at his father seriously. “He is the most skilled warrior in the south with a sword and that is a rare gift amongst the Silvan. He works well within the command structure. He is respectful. His fellows like and respect him. He is a natural leader. And I often have Glílavan work with the younger warriors. He is an excellent teacher. He would be perfect for this position.”

Aradunnon was still shaking his head. “He is not even a lieutenant. It would not be appropriate to make him a captain…”

“He has served in the south for twice as long as I have been alive. He is not a lieutenant because you have refused to promote him…”

“And I am this realm’s troop commander. That is my prerogative, captain,” Aradunnon interrupted sharply.

Dolgailon again loosed a calming breath and replied in a carefully neutral tone. “I understand that commander and I do not question it. But allow me to point out that you just said you cannot afford to lose any officer from the south or east. I am perfectly qualified to serve in either patrol, I have experience in both and I want to return to the patrols. Glílavan wants and deserves to be promoted. If he is not a warrior that you trust to serve as an officer in either of those patrols, perhaps you would trust him in the capital where you can supervise him closely—where you could see his worth first hand. You asked if I had another suggestion. That is it.”

“If I was going to promote someone that had never been a lieutenant to captain, and I am not going to do that, I would promote Tirithion, Hebor, Langon or Pathon long before I would promote Glílavan, Dolgailon,” Aradunnon replied with finality.

“That is also certainly your prerogative, commander. I do not dispute that.”

A soft sigh interrupted their conversation. Dolgailon and Aradunnon turned to face Amoneth, who was looking at her son sadly. “I know very little about this training program besides what I have heard you and your adar discussing, Dolgailon, but it sounds like a worthwhile pursuit. It seems that you should be able to find satisfaction in serving as its captain. And could you not find a reason to be happy in the capital? If spending time with your baby brother is not enough, what about Arthiel? You and she have grown very close.”

Dolgailon tensed. He could debate with his father and uncle based on logical arguments regarding the safety of the realm. He did not care to enter into debates based on emotional platitudes with his mother. “Nana, Arthiel would be the first person to understand why I feel I could provide a more valuable service outside the capital. She shares my desire to defend this realm. That is why she is studying to be a forester—so that she can help heal the trees that suffer due to the Shadow’s influence.”

Several sets of eyebrows went up at that statement.

“I was not aware that Arthiel had left her adar’s workshop,” Thranduil said quietly. “He must be very disappointed and so am I. I had intended to ask her to do some carvings on some of the furniture that we have had made for the nursery.”

Dolgailon looked at his uncle evenly. “I am certain that Arthiel would be happy to do anything you asked of her, my lord. As will I.”

Thranduil nodded. “I do not doubt that, Dolgailon.”

He did not. He knew his nephew would go to Dol Guldur if it were required of him. Thranduil dropped his gaze to his lap when he saw Amoneth’s parents looking sadly at their eldest grandson. Against his will, Thranduil’s eyes turned to Galithil sleeping with the stuffed toy’s tail in his mouth, his lips lifted in a happy smile. As he reached to gently pull the toy from his nephew’s mouth he felt as much as saw Amglaur’s eyes boring into him.

After a moment’s pause, Hallion cleared his throat, drawing the king and troop commander’s attention. He looked at Aradunnon cautiously. Interfering in his command of the realm’s troops was every bit as dangerous as crossing the king and he knew that well. But it was his duty to advise them both. “We seemed to have agreed on all aspects of this program other than its captain. I am constrained to point out that, while I see the value of having someone with Dolgailon’s knowledge of the program and of this realm’s military structure in command of the training program, I also agree that his service to this realm in the patrols is extremely valuable. Keeping him here to captain the training program in order to allow him to court maidens and help care for his baby brother is a family concern and not one that necessarily best serves this realm…”

Aradunnon’s brow knit angrily and he opened his mouth to make a heated retort. Glancing at his in-laws, he spoke in a strained but civil voice. “I do not make decisions as this realm’s troop commander based on my personal desires, Hallion. I would think you know that very well.”

Hallion nodded calmly. “I do. I was merely going to suggest that instead of deciding this last issue today, perhaps we should prepare a list of potential captains and discuss it with the full council.”

Thranduil nodded. “Do you have any objection to that, Aradunnon?”

Aradunnon shook his head tiredly. “No, of course not, my lord. That is an excellent suggestion.”

“Good,” Thranduil said. “As the author of this program, Dolgailon will be present for that discussion as well,” he added firmly. “Put that list together for me as soon as possible, Aradunnon, and I want you to put this Glílavan on it,” he said and fixed his brother with a firm glare when Aradunnon looked at him challengingly. “You can explain to me why he is so unsuitable in your mind when we discuss everyone else. And Dolgailon can explain why he so strongly favors him.”

Aradunnon shrugged and shook his head. “Very well. When we discuss it, I can explain to you in one word why Glílavan is not acceptable and you will agree.” Then he stood gathering Galithil in his arms as he did so that Amoneth could stand as well. “If this conversation is concluded, I would like to take advantage of a few quiet moments before dinner while my youngest is asleep. If you will excuse us?”

Thranduil nodded and stood as well with a light smile on his face. “I must say that was the most polite debate I have ever heard,” he said as Galithil’s grandparents gathered the toys scattered about the sitting room and stood to follow Aradunnon and Amoneth. “Perhaps I will hold all my council meetings publicly and in the presence of sleeping infants if it will achieve this effect.”

Amoneth’s parents laughed and that comment and to Thranduil’s surprise, so did Amglaur. His father-in-law smirked. “I served my brother Amdir before he died and I serve his son now. I have witnessed a few impassioned debates in council chambers, lord Thranduil. I hope no one censored themselves on my account.”

Thranduil struggled to stifle a snort. Knowing Amglaur as he did, he suspected that his father-in-law had instigated and participated in, not simply witnessed, many heated arguments in lord Amroth’s court. He did not trust himself to reply, so he remained silent.

Meanwhile, Lindomiel groaned watching everyone else stand. “I will never be able to get up. Why did I sit here?” she whined playfully with a smile on her face.

Thranduil laughed softly. “I honestly cannot imagine how you got down on the floor in the first place,” he said teasingly.

Lindomiel glared at her husband and held out both arms in a silent demand for help. With Thranduil on her right and Amglaur on her left, she hauled herself from the floor. As soon as she was on her feet, she winced and took a deep breath. A moment later she shook her head and returned Thranduil’s concerned expression with her own pained one.

“Your son absolutely adores pushing against my ribs and kicking them. I would not be surprised if he just planted his feet against my ribs and delivered himself.” She sighed dramatically. “And if he did, it would be fine with me. Valar! I want this over with!”

Thranduil and Amglaur both looked at Lindomiel sympathetically while Dieneryn and Limmiel laughed lightly.

“It will not be long, iell nin,” Limmiel said, patting her daughter’s stomach.

Lindomiel rolled her eyes. “If I hear that one more time I will explode! I have been hearing that for months. I wish this baby had been born three days early as Galithil was.” She looked at Thranduil. “I would not be surprised if he were born three days late.”

Thranduil looked back at his wife with sincere panic. “Do not tempt fate by saying that,” he replied quickly.

Dieneryn laughed. “Come, you must be stiff from sitting there so long, Lindomiel. Let us go for a nice walk before dinner. Walking can sometimes encourage labor to begin,” she said, trying to cheer her daughter-in-law.

Thranduil looked at his mother with concern, drawing Lindomiel against his side with an arm around her waist. His other hand came to rest on her stomach. “Is that wise, nana? She tires so easily and surely we do not want to exhaust her before her labor starts. I was going to suggest a nap before dinner.”

Lindomiel shook her head. “I am far too restless for a nap and so is your son.” Thranduil smiled at her. He could indeed feel a little foot steadily kicking just under his hand. “But I do not want to walk all the way to the gates. Thranduil, will you walk with me in the garden?”

Thranduil laughed softly at her pleading tone. He had never been able to refuse her anything and he was even less capable of doing so now. Especially if walking in the garden was her request. “If that is what you want to do, of course I will,” he said, placing a kiss on her cheek.

As he did, he was very aware of his father-in-law’s presence. Amglaur was still standing to Lindomiel’s left. For a very long time after their marriage, Amglaur continued making sour faces whenever he was forced to witness any display of affection between his daughter and her husband. Thranduil had long thought he only maintained the practice out of habit but it still annoyed him. Now Amglaur reached to touch a lock of his daughter’s hair to get her attention.

“May I join you, iell nin?” he asked in a quiet tone.

Lindomiel turned to her father, grasping the hand falling away from her hair. “Of course, ada. I expected you would.”

Dieneryn smiled. “I am going to check on dinner and then I will join you in the garden as well if you do not mind,” she said.

Lindomiel nodded earnestly. “I really want the company, truthfully. I cannot deny that I am a little nervous as well as anxious. I need a distraction more than anything else.”

Limmiel caressed her daughter’s cheek. “I was very nervous as well, iell nin. It is natural. Come, the trees in the garden will comfort you,” she said, leading the way to the garden door as Dieneryn went in the opposite direction to the kitchen.

*~*~*

Dolgailon walked quietly out of the family sitting room. Instead of following his parents and grandparents to their chambers, he turned to the door leading to the public halls. His father had said he wanted to rest and Dolgailon did not care to risk arguing further with him about the captaincy of the training program. He had held his tongue in the presence of the king and his grandparents. He was less confident in his ability to restrain himself if he were forced to immediately go a second round with his father. In the end, like Aradunnon and Thranduil, Dolgailon was an heir of the House of Oropher. His temper would eventually surface and he knew that would not help him prove that he was ready to return to the patrols.

Without conscious thought, Dolgailon walked through the halls in the stronghold past the elves that were still there bustling about, hurrying to complete their daily business. He slipped out the Great Gates and paused for a moment, drawing in the warm, fresh spring air. Glancing at the guards by the Gates, Dolgaion slipped off the bridge before crossing the river to balance carefully on the steep slope between the mountain and the water. As a child, he had enjoyed hiding amongst the trees and bushes in this secluded spot. No one walked here. Strictly speaking, it was not allowed to climb on the mountain that held the stronghold. But he knew the Palace Guard would not stop him. After he had taken a few dozen steps across the root-covered, rocky slope, he slipped into the trees, settling in the branches of the beech that had hid him many times when he was a child. He leaned back against its trunk and tried to think of how to calmly and rationally approach his father and the king about the captaincy of this training program.

Night had fallen and the stars were bright in the sky when Dolgailon heard rustling in the underbrush coming towards him. The approaching creature sounded too big to be a squirrel or fox or any other innocuous animal. Silently cursing himself for being in the forest at night armed with only a knife, Dolgailon perched on the tree branch where he had been sitting and strained to listen. It had to be a boar. Or a guard. Nothing too dangerous could approach the very mountain walls of the stronghold, he said to himself drawing a calming breath.

“It is me,” a voice whispered from near the based of the tree. Dolgailon frowned. It was a feminine voice.

“Arthiel?” he called, relaxing considerably.

“Yes, put away whatever weapon you have trained on me. I am coming up,” she said quietly.

In a few seconds, he was face to face with a grinning maiden. “How did you know that I was here?” he asked as she settled in a branch next to him. “And how did you get over here?”

She frowned at him scornfully. “Your guard is stalking through the forest spitting fire because he cannot find you. He came to my cottage looking for you. There are few places you could be hiding and as often as we came here as children, I came here first to look for you. As for how I got here, I eluded those guards by the Gates with you many times as a child to play here. I am only more skilled as an adult.”

Dolgailon shook his head ruefully. “If Galudiron does not report this to the Palace Guard, I suppose it is my duty to do so. I did not elude the guards to come here,” he added in response to her raised eyebrows. “I merely stepped off the bridge and walked over here. And I doubt we ever actually eluded them as children. But if you truly did just now and they did not simply ignore your approach knowing that I was here, then Dollion needs to know that.”

Arthiel smirked and shoved him playfully. “Always the warrior, you are. Duty before fun,” she said teasingly, frowning as he scowled and looked away. “What are you doing in old childhood hiding places, Dolgailon?” she asked softly, concern in her voice.

He sighed softly but said nothing.

She looked down. “If you cannot discuss it, will you at least allow me to take you somewhere merrier, such as the green or for a walk along one of the paths?”

Her somber tone forced him to look back at her. She had worry written plainly on her face, evident even in the shadows of the starlight. He sighed again. “I can probably discuss it to some extent. The king discussed it in front of my daeradar and daernaneth,” he said quietly. “And I have spent the entire evening thinking without devising a convincing argument. If you are willing, I would very much like your advice.”

She reached to touch his hand. “I would never repeat anything you told me, Dolgailon. I cannot imagine what advice I could give you on the matters you discuss with the king, but I am happy to listen.”

Taking a deep breath, he looked at her evenly. “I mentioned to you before that the king asked me to work with Lord Engwe and my adar on a project. That project was a more thorough training program for new warriors.” His lips turned up faintly as she nodded seriously. “We have finally designed a program that the king has agreed to adopt.” She smiled at that and he paused, looking at her gravely. “He wants me to remain in the capital and captain the program.”

Arthiel looked at him expectantly. When Dolgailon did not continue, she shook her head slightly. “Is that a problem somehow?”

He sighed again and looked away. “Arthiel, I want to return to my patrol in the south. Or at least one of the patrols. I want to fight to defend this realm, not sit in the capital and direct training drills.”

Arthiel nodded and sat back against the tree. “Well, I suppose I can see that. I mean, I could teach a child to use a bow or a knife to defend himself. Swords are probably harder but does Langon not teach that already? I honestly cannot imagine why the king feels he needs to waste a perfectly good captain for something like this.”

Dolgailon’s brow furrowed slightly. “I have been hunting with you, Arthiel. You are very skilled with a bow. But can you shoot straight down from a tree or while lying on the ground? Could you shoot while something was shooting at you and strategizing to kill you? There is more to surviving in battle than being able to handle a bow. This training program is very complex. The new warriors will learn more than simple marksmanship and one-on-one swordsmanship. It will prepare them to properly analyze the terrain they fight on and their opponent’s force to identify appropriate offensive, defensive or combined tactics for that situation. They will learn to perform reconnaissance properly and to track. They will practice in mock battles in the forest, on the plains at the edge of the forest, up slope and down slope, near the mountains.” He laughed. “I even convinced the king to allow them to spend one week attacking and defending the stronghold.” He looked at her seriously. “I do agree the program needs a captain. Someone well versed in tactics and skilled with weapons who can help develop the young warriors’ skills.” He shook his head. “Just not me. I do not want to be coddled here in the capital just because the king has convinced my adar that the Shadow has affected me or because my parents want me around to see my brother grow to adulthood.”

Arthiel blinked. “You do not want to be with your brother?” she asked, keeping her voice as neutral as possible.

“Of course I do. But I do not want the entire forest to look like the southern realm by the time he comes of age.”

Arthiel nodded. Then she looked at Dolgailon evenly. “So are there many warriors that have the tactical knowledge and the weaponry skills and the command experience to captain this program?” she asked.

“I suggested someone. A good warrior in my patrol that adar has consistently passed over for promotion. He would do a perfectly adequate job.”

“Would he do as good a job as you?”

Dolgailon looked at her, his mouth quirked down on one side. “With time,” he replied shortly.

“Perhaps ‘with time’ is not good enough for the king. Do you think maybe he wants you to captain this program because he knows your skills as a warrior and a captain and because he trusts your commitment to this realm more than he trusts anyone else? I do not know him as well as you, of course, but that sounds more like the sort of reasoning he uses than the idea of him making you captain just to shelter you or keep you in the capital against your will.’”

Dolgailon looked away. He was so determined to return to his patrol that the idea that his father and uncle had bestowed a great deal of faith in him by suggesting he captain the training program had never occurred to him.

When he turned from her, Arthiel reached again to touch his hand. “I am not taking his side, Dolgailon. Every time you kill an orc or a spider in the patrols you have made a tangible difference to protect this realm. I can definitely see the attraction of serving in the patrols. Indeed, if the king allows ellyth to enter this training program, I will do so. And I have many friends that would as well.” Dolgailon looked at her alarmed, but she was looking down and did not notice. “I am just saying that I think I would be honored if I were you. He obviously thinks you are a very capable warrior if he would trust you to captain this training program since it requires someone with so many skills. Maybe you could approach this by offering to serve as captain of this program only long enough to train someone else to take that position—this person you recommended possibly. That way you are not permanently assigned to a duty that holds no interest for you.” As she finished speaking, she looked up at him hopefully.

He returned her gaze evenly. “Thank you, Arthiel,” he said softly. Her face lit up with a smile, obviously pleased that her suggestion had helped him. He smiled back at her. “I will suggest to adar and the king that I be allowed to train someone else to captain the program. That is an excellent idea.” He paused and took her hand. “But more than that, thank you for helping me see past my anger. I was so determined to not accept any position other than one in the patrols, that I did not honestly see the trust the king had placed in me.”

She studied him for a moment and then smiled. “The king trusts you, Dolgailon, though I cannot imagine why. Look at you here—sneaking past your fellow warriors to break the king’s laws to hide on the mountain and participating regularly in the disgraceful behavior at the Oak. Not very lordly. And now you are an older brother! What an influence you will be,” she concluded, shaking her head dramatically.

Dolgailon’s eyes widened. “I am perfectly innocent, Arthiel! You were the one that got us in trouble as children and you still do, dragging me to the Oak and other sundry places. For shame.”

She laughed and leaned back against the tree again. “Good, that is better. Your mood seems vastly improved if you are insulting me again.”

In the darkness, he snorted in reply.

“So how long do you think you will be in the capital training a captain for this program you developed,” she asked. Her voice sounded casual.

Dolgailon frowned and looked over at her. She was looking up through the branches at the stars. Suddenly he realized how insensitive it was for him to lament an opportunity to stay in the capital in her presence. Many times over the last few months as he danced with her on the green or walked with her along the river or ate dinner in her family’s cottage, he thought how deeply he enjoyed her company and acknowledged, if only to himself, that he felt far more than simply friendship for her. Her words to him when they had discussed his father’s comments about their relationship had made her feelings plain. But she had never pushed him. Indeed she had always put his feelings and desires before her own. Even when they were children and they had discussed that he intended to join the patrols.

He closed his eyes and let out a long breath, leaning back against the tree. When he looked back her apologetically, she had leaned forward again and was studying at him with concern.

Without thinking, he reached to her and drew a finger softly across her cheek and down her jaw. “I have been a fool tonight, Arthiel,” he whispered, tracing a line from her jaw down her neck. He frowned slightly at the intense sensation he felt from that simple contact and looked at her in amazement as she trembled under his touch. Her breathing seemed very shallow. His hand went to the nape of her neck and he pulled her face closer to his. “Perhaps I have been a fool for a good deal longer than simply tonight,” he said bringing his other hand to her cheek and stroking it softly. “Look at me, Arthiel,” he whispered.

When she raised her eyes to his, he drew a sharp breath at the emotion he saw plainly written in them. Emotions she could not hide as his thumb caressed her cheek.

“I cannot promise you that I will stay in the capital permanently. I know that one day, I will want to return to the patrols.”

She looked down. “I have told you how I feel about that. I would wait for you to have your leaves.”

He nodded. “You have told me how you feel about that. But I am asking you to think about it again. It is time for me to stop being such a fool, Arthiel. I want you to take a moment and really consider it—if I go back to the patrols, can you live alone knowing the risk I take?”

Arthiel blinked, her mouth opening slightly as she began to grasp the direction of this conversation. With a deep breath, she looked at him evenly. “I had already thought very carefully when I first told you my feelings on this matter, Dolgailon,” she said firmly. “Most maidens think about this because most of the ellyn are warriors now.”

Dolgailon shook his head. “I am not any warrior, Arthiel. I am the king’s nephew. I do not know what the king’s expectations of you would be, but he would have them, even when I am away on patrol. At the very least, you would not be as free as you are now—there would be guards…people would treat you differently. Do you think you could accept that as well? Have you thought about that?”

“I have known all my life who you are, my lord. I do not doubt I would have to adapt to some changes. You and the king would have to tolerate the mistakes I would surely make. But I am willing to work through those difficulties if you are.”

“I am. But I want you to be very certain. I want you to have time to experience what you are committing yourself to. I think our betrothal should be longer than one year.”

She smiled at him. “It cannot begin until you ask me, Dolgailon.”

He smiled as well. “May I ask your adar for his permission for us to be betrothed, Arthiel?” he asked softly, his breath tickling her cheek.

Her smiled broadened. “Yes, Dolgailon, you may. And I will agree to whatever length betrothal you think is best on one condition.”

His eyebrows rose slightly. “And what is that?”

She answered by closing the distance between them and pressing her lips against his.

*~*~*

Adar/ada—Father/dad

Naneth/nana—Mother/mum

Pen neth—Young one

Ion nin—My son

Iell nin—My daughter

 





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